PROMOTING COGNITIVE FLEXIBILITY USING PROGRESSIVE CASES: DEVELOPING PROJECT MANAGEMENT SKILLS BY INTRODUCING AUTHENTIC AND UNEXPECTED CHALLENGES
Progressive cases, cases with changing constraints during a learning experience, were used in an online, graduate, project management (PM) course for instructional design and education students. The ongoing study investigates how introducing authentic and unexpected challenges, zingers, to cases may promote cognitive flexibility (CF) and develop deeper PM knowledge/ skills.
Case studies, simulating authentic or realistic problems, can be used to bridge theory and practice (e.g., Ertmer & Russell, 1995; Graf, 1991) and allow students to benefit vicariously from experts’ experiences (e.g., Rowland, 1992). However, there are limitations to learning with cases. The format may not represent realistic complexity (Williams, 1992). Missing stresses and constraints of reality may not completely simulate decision-making (Romiszowski, 1991).
Oversimplification of content, generalization, and transfer problems hinder learning towards expertise (Spiro, Coulson, Feitovich & Anderson, 1988). Cognitive Flexibility Theory aims to address these problems. It can be described as:
- Thinking about knowledge from different perspectives (Spiro et al., 1988)
- Adjusting one’s problem solving as the task changes (Krems, 1995).
Much of the literature focuses on static cases, e.g. snap-shots or case problems (Hudspeth & Knirk, 1989) that do not change during the learning experience or problem-solving process. Static cases may not prepare students for the dynamic nature of real-world design and management problems.
In the real world, constraints, context, and resources change. In PM, there are always uncertainties and unexpected events which can “threaten the viability of a project" (Geraldi, Lee-Kelley, & Kutsch, 2010, p. 549). Client and stakeholder requests change, requiring the designer/manger to communicate, adjust, and negotiate (Kim, 2015).
Change requires one to remain flexible about solutions and actions, it requires CF. "The unexpected happens...front-end thinking alone is not going to be enough to develop successful projects" (Geraldi et al., 2010, p. 556). Jonassen (2008) argued that due to emerging constraints, analysis needs to occur throughout the process to address new constraints as they come.
Static cases replicate front-end thinking/ analysis, but do not replicate the required flexibility and iteration to develop successful projects in the face of sure change.
In this developmental study, progressive cases are being investigated as a method to teach graduate students PM knowledge/ skills, and develop CF.
Over a semester, students work on PM plans based on a case scenario. Two authentic zingers (scope change, budget reduction) are introduced during the semester, requiring students to adjust their thinking and plan.
Cognitive flexibility is measured before and after zingers using the Cognitive Flexibility Scale instrument (Martin & Rubin, 1995). Changes in students’ assignment drafts, responses to final exam questions, and a/synchronous discussions are analyzed for evidence of CF and PM knowledge/skills over the semester.
In a preliminary review of the data, it was found that students’ immediate responses to zingers included asking for more information to inform plan revisions. Students were exhibiting sound PM judgement by suggesting discussion/negotiation with the client, describing effects on quality and timeline, and adding resources (hiring, training).